At further stops he discovers more of the detritus of his youth—a rare silver commemorative coin given him by his Uncle Bill. He also remembers that he had lost the coin, but rather than confess his carelessness, he had lied that a neighbor boy had stolen it from him. Chris finds a leather bracelet he had made. Still visible was his name, which he had burned into the leather with a wood burning kit in Cub Scouts. Again, he had lost the bracelet somewhere along the way.
As he walks along, he finds many other things he had carelessly lost, and now years later, he remembers them as great treasures. These he continues to pile up in his arms as he winds his way down the mountain.
After a while he notices what looks like petroglyphs, inscriptions, and even photographic images incised into the shale-like material in a myriad of forms. Chris stopped to examine one these closer. He could make out the portrait of a young girl, in her early adolescence, smiling a bit of a crooked grin, stamped onto the surface of a small fragment of shale. He instantly recognizes her and exclaims “Charlene!” He unloads his armful of treasures and gently picks up the rock, smiling back at the girl’s face as he holds the portrait close.
He is transported in time. The memories compressed, holding their story from beginning to end all in a singular moment. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. Except Chris’s version was always the same–no third, redemptive act. It was always, “boy meets… boy loses…” Scanning around, Chris can’t help but notice several other faces scattered in the shale, faces of different ages and with different names. All found. All lost. Chris sorts through these vignettes, holding each one closely to his face, as if by doing so he could somehow force the images to reveal their stories more thoroughly.
But the pain is accumulating. Eventually he thinks better of looking at anymore of the portraits. But as he begins to gather up his earlier finds, his eyes freeze on one more picture. Chris closes his eyes to blot out her picture, but the mental image actually intensifies. It is Gail, dearest Gail, wife, now ex-wife. Her eyes lock onto his and speak wordless volumes of fleeting happiness and lasting regret. Tears come, first to his eyes, and then to hers.
Chris can’t take it any longer. He drops the fragile piece and it shatters. He moves down the trail, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. He passes the galleries of a lifetime of loss.
He descends through a hillside of slender, shiny obsidian monuments that look like a graveyard terracing its way downward. On each monument he sees an inscription etched into the stone, some quite lengthy, others merely a single word. “DIGNITY” says one. “HOPE” says another.
Ahead he sees an area with countless markers bearing the chiseled word “DREAMS.” Each of these has a small subscript indicating a date. Under these are paragraph-length inscriptions, obituaries, outlining the various deaths of Chris’s dreams and aspirations. Some have dates going back to when he was a younger, more optimistic man.
He pauses at a few of these and unearths the sad memories long forgotten. Chris wanders through these markers and feels the misery of each of the losses, like still-born children he has never been able to see grow and become mature.
He staggers on. Raising his eyes, Chris can see that this memorial field is spread down the mountainside in every direction for miles. It reminds him of movies he has seen of European war cemeteries with their neat row after row of white crosses spreading to the horizon. There no longer seems to be any path, or maybe he has simply lost it in his confused windings through the markers.
As Chris stumbles downward, he sees that the markers have become something different. On their crystalline faces are moving pictures. Chris realizes that they portray lost opportunities to give, to serve, to love God, to love others. One after another, endless scenarios play out showing what Chris might have been and might have done. Scene after scene show the life Chris could have lived, the life, he bitterly realizes, he should have lived.
He is devastated.
He begins to feel an overwhelming vertigo of despair swallowing him. He drops to the ground and curls himself into a ball and waits for… death?
But death doesn’t come. Chris instead finds himself being lifted by someone he can’t seem to see. He feels strong arms, overpowering love, and hears a voice, a song, that wipes away tears.
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